PDF viewers

On turning texts into font rendering errors

February 11, 2020 — March 21, 2023

computers are awful
information provenance
Figure 1

I would like to have a PDF viewer that supports easy sharing the same annotations across Linux desktop, macOS, iOS and Android devices

Q: Is that feasible?

A: Only if we expand the definitions of easy, annotation and feasible.

1 Sioyek

Sioyek looks modern.

Sioyek is a PDF viewer with a focus on technical books and research papers.

… Quickly search your previously opened documents, table of contents, bookmarks, and highlights. Sioyek can even generate the table of contents if the document doesn’t have one!

It supports SyncTeX and many other thoughtful things I have not seen before.

2 Evince/Okular


Figure 2: dan dan dan dan dan dan dan dan

The KDE (okular) and GNOME (Evince) default PDF readers are more-or-less indistinguishable from the perspective of a user like me. Both are passable but have clunky annotation exchange. Evince has a terrible UI for even viewing annotations — It summarises the text of each annotation in the navigation sidebar as my name and the date, which is the most uniform and least interesting thing about my annotations. I already know my name. It’s the content of the PDF I am concerned with.. Navigating that monolithic text blob by choosing which bits of it are useful to me is the whole reason I am using a computer here, not wondering what is truly me and what is someone else. I’m not saying there is no conceivable use case for such a UI, just not a one that I have had thus far in my decades on this earth.

Also, it cannot save over the PDF I am currently editing; I must to make a new copy then manually rename it over the previous version. This is because, I suppose, mint condition PDFs have a higher resale value? A concession to the NFT market?

Plus side: supports adequate latex synctex preview via evince-synctex.

/usr/bin/pip3 install --user https://github.com/efoerster/evince-synctex/archive/master.zip

3 Zathura

Zathura seems to be the document viewer recommendation du jour in certain linuxy circles. It does auto syncing and updating and such. It has no annotation support AFAICS but goes fast. If you like typing / instead of Ctrl-F and think that you will save time by manually defining specific keyboard shortcuts in a config file, you will feel right at home.

4 Skim.app

Skim. Mac. TBD. Seems pretty good, if you have a Mac. Notable for its LaTeX sync support.

5 Qpdfview


An alternative at the opposite end of the minimalism spectrum is qpdfview which, as the name suggests, clearly had a fractious committee behind the design decisions. It has dozens of settings with confounding nerdview names. Nonetheless, it can save and load PDFs, which is nice and not at all a given for the apps in this list. AFAICT it still doesn’t navigate PDFs by annotations, or support highlighting annotations of text in the commonly-understood meaning of that term.

6 Mupdf

mupdf claims to work across all desktop platforms as well as mobile devices. Have not tested the features.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntuhandbook1/apps
sudo apt install mupdf mupdf-tools

7 Acrobat

I’ve always disliked the gigantic Adobe Acrobloat Reader. It has become singularly useless to me now since there no longer seems to be a linux version. Maybe one could run it in docker if one needed to fill out a form?

8 Incoming

There is cross platform support from the commercial app foxit.